Gaza media coverage – ‘You can’t cover a war from one hill’

February 3, 2009

I’ve been writing another chapter of the
PhD over the last month and I find it’s all too easy to get distracted,
so I pursue a ‘close all unnecessary tabs in browser’ policy. This
means there’s less blogging but I do get some ‘real work’ done!

The other day I finally got a chance to watch Channel 4’s Dispatches
programme, ‘Unseen Gaza’. Presented by Jon Snow, it was an excellent
summary of some of the key issues facing the media as they tried to
report Gaza.

You can still watch it
on Channel 4’s Catch Up service for a few more days yet, but I thought
I’d pull out some quotes from various members of the media interviewed
on the programme.

1. Western journalists on not being allowed access to Gaza:

“You can’t cover a war from one hill”

Dominic Waghorn, Sky News, to an Israeli soldier

“I think that the truth of what happening is getting
out. What we’re not getting is some of the detail…For example there was
some incredibly moving pictures that I used at the end of one of my
reports in the last week or so and it was a man who was kissing his
dead son goodbye in the hospital. I mean it was horrific.

“The agency cameramen who are shooting these things. They are very
brave and very enterprising. But if I’d been there I would have found
out who that man was. I’d have gone to his house if it was still
standing. I would have found out his personal story…but we haven’t been
able to do that.”

Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East Editor

“The problem is the context, that is what we miss by not being there”

Kevin Flower, CNN

2. On the differing approaches taken by Western media and Arab networks to graphic images:

“I don’t think the coverage of a story is about the
volume of blood and gore that you show, but clearly being able to get
across the effects especially on the civilian population in Gaza of
what’s being happening is very important.

“We’ve had a number of really powerful pieces which are about the
effects on their lives seeing the kinds of injuries that they’ve had.
Those haven’t been about images of blood splattered all over walls.
We’ve had some of that, but we don’t have as much as typically Arab
networks do and some European countries.”

Peter Horrocks, Head of the BBC Newsroom

“The human tragedy that is taking place in Gaza is not
being shown properly and authentically on the screens of Western
networks in general. It’s no longer I think convincing to tell me that
you should shy away from live coverage of wars because you’re going to
show some indecent or nightmarish scenes, but war is ugly.

“And if you are honest you have to show the ugly affairs of war.
What is war if not horrible? It is a very important question that we –
I mean journalists, I mean media people – should be talking about
should be deliberating in the future.”

Ahmed Sheikh, Chief Editor, Al Jazeera

“I think people do get a sense of what is going on. I
don’t think you need to see dismembered body parts to have a sense of
what’s happening in Gaza. People know from looking at shots in
hospitals, on hospital trolleys, the aftermath of the air strikes, the
pictures that we do show…

“For example, we showed a very very strong image about a week ago of
a Father who had lost four of his children in an attack air strike and
one of the children was a young infant. Now probably by the strict code
that would be a very very you know near breach for us. But the baby was
not bloodied…it was a tragically awful image that conveyed the horror
but I’m hoping wouldn’t have offended or shocked anyone beyond reason
and through that image we got across the human cost of what’s happened.”

Adrian Wells, Sky News, Head of Foreign News

“The view on the Arabic satellite networks is
essentially, if you don’t show it you’re covering it up. Show
everything and show it five times or ten times, because if you don’t do
it then you’re conspiring with Israel to cover up the truth.

“Our point of view is that you have to show the truth, but also
there’s a balance to be drawn in terms of the sensibilities of the
viewers, and also a fact that it might become counterproductive after a
while, if you keep showing a load of bodies…”

Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East Editor

I’ll be going to the Frontline Club’s discussion about Gaza and the Media on Thursday. Afraid there are no spaces left, but you can watch the livestream. I’ll get a blog post up about it too.